30 November 2020
What is Lent ?

What is Lent?


By Father Shane

This time of year is normally packed with activity in Church circles. Easter is celebrated is very early this year, in fact it is almost as early as it can be. Before the feast of the resurrection there is the annual round up of Lent. Traditionally Lent was associated with penance, prayer and the trocaire box. Nowadays, the rigors of fasting and extra prayers seem to be a thing of the past. But what does Lent mean for the average Christian? For Lent 2008 the parish of Tullamore has decided to put an added emphasis on this season. The forty days are being presented as a unique opportunity for change and growth and the over all theme is “come back!”

The origins of Lent are in the Scriptures, remembering the forty days Jesus Christ spent in the desert being tempted by the devil. It was His preparation was for the beginning of His public ministry, culminating in His Passion, death and Resurrection. The Christian season of Lent is a time of conversion and renewal in the run up to Easter. Like Christ’s forty days it is about preparation
New years resolutions come and go.  Experience shows they rarely last a few weeks. The good thing about Lent is that is for a very fixed period, seven weeks in total. Often it is easier to focus on a short period to time.  Concrete goals can be set and, with God’s help, can be easily achieved. All too often the season has been marked just with “giving up”. Realistically it is no good putting penance on the body when we do nothing to change our attitudes and prejudices In short it concerns change of heart. The call of Lent is simple and straightforward, as the Bible says “Come back to me with all your heart!” Joel 2:12

So what about the ‘giving up’ is that all gone? The basic answer is no! Lent gives us a chance to look honestly at life, in general, and also our life in God. The ‘giving up’ or fasting is not done for its own sake, it is as part of the bigger picture of conversion.
“Growing up, I remember longing for St Patrick’s Day, so we could devour the hoard of sweets we had collected since Ash Wednesday. Even then we knew it was part of a bigger thing” so says Fr Padraig Cocoran, curate in Tullamore. “This is my first year to work in a parish for Lent, up until this I have been working in a school and hospital. I am looking forward to sharing this journey in the parish. There are many things we would all like to do to become closer to God and be the people he wants us to be. Lent for me is essentially a time of preparation. We spend most of the time caught up with the demands of every day life. It’s great to have the opportunity to slow down and think what life is really about.” Asked what he believes the meaning of Lent is, he says “It’s a journey back to God which should take pride of place in our lives. We can get rid of the habits and sins that keep us from God, the things that distract us from what is most importance in life. It is about effort, it may feel like hard work, but anything worth doing is worth well.”

For Catholics, Fr Sean Heaney parish priest of Tullamore reflects, the centre of the spiritual journey is the Eucharist. Mass is when the community comes together to remember what Christ has done for us all. “The Mass is very important to Catholics, and our celebration of Lent is closely tied to the Mass. This year, for example, there are three daily Masses in the Parish Church during the week. 7.30am for school goes and workers, 10am again at 7.30 in the evening. Our theme of “Come back to me with all your heart” hopes to reach out to all people in the parish. Our sincere hope is that people who have had a bad experience of Church or Mass will take this chance to start again. The Church should be a place of welcome, not a place that is daunting or off putting.” But Mass is not the only way of prayer this Lent. “Of course the scripture is of huge importance. There will be copies of the Bible available in the Church during Lent. The Word of God feeds us with knowledge of the God who saves us. In the Bible we learn as much about ourselves as we do of God. Prayer is also personal, and every day should have a few minutes alone with God.” Reflecting this theme, the parish his hosting a “Welcome back Mass” on Friday, February 8th  at 7.30pm. The invitation is offered to all who have given up on God and the sacraments to ‘come back’. People often feel as the Church as a foreign place, when in fact it should be home where everyone belongs, warts and all.

The Trocaire box is synonymous with Lent, and has been for over twenty-five years. Tullamore, in recent years, has been extraordinarily generous when it comes to this cause. The Lenten campaign this year is “Climate change affects everyone… but not equally.” Focusing on the issues of global climate change and on the fact that this change has much more serious implications for the developing world. The campaign hopes to help countries in these parts of the world to prepare to meet the challenges of climatic variability.

The Church of Ireland Union of Parishes is a busy place during Lent. Tullamore will be holding ‘Lent groups’ on Tuesday evenings in St Catherine’s rectory at 8pm. The theme for this course is “prayer for beginners and for those who have forgotten how!” Lent for Anglicans, according to the rector Rev Gerald Field is an important time. Along with the schedule of Sunday services, here is Morning Prayer on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each day at 10am in Hophill.

The Presbyterian and Methodist churches do not follow the strict liturgical calendar of the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions, Lent however is a time of personal preparation for Easter. “Many people on my circuit comment that the preparation for Christmas is material, but preparation for Easter is much more spiritual” comments Rev. Colin Gracie, the Methodist minister in Tullamore and Birr. “People have a chance to do a ‘spiritual stock take’ at this time. This results in entering much more deeply into the celebration of Easter. Lent is a time to ask the big questions of faith, of personal journey examining the characteristics of faith. We can ask ourselves what needs to be changed.”  Colin believes that the interaction between the different traditions of faith opens us to a deeper understanding of our relationship with God. “It’s not uncommon for people to say that they get more out of Easter than Christmas because of this time of reflection”

Both Colin and Rev. William Hayes, the local Presbyterian minister, have been instrumental in organizing an inter-church “Way of the Cross” on Good Friday in Tullamore in recent years. This is a very real way for all Christians to celebrate their faith in Christ crucified and risen.
Lent is different to what it used to be. Sr Genny Hassey, a sister of Mercy recalls how Lent was when she was young.  “When I was younger, I hated Lent, because it seemed to go on forever!” “In the convent, the regime at this time the year was very strict. For supper all we were given was a cup of tea and two Marietta biscuits! Lent now, is not so much penance for penance sake, but for a greater goal.” Asked if she believes if Lent has a place in modern living she says, “Lent is about Easter. It is about preparing to celebrate the greatest Christian festival of them all. As we start on this journey from Ash Wednesday, through Good Friday to Easter Sunday we can open our hearts to the God.” Regardless of our personal disposition towards faith and our own experience of life, Lent provides us with a wonderful chance to look on life. There is a sense of common purpose. Be it giving up the drink, committing ourselves to pray a little more, or to give something extra to the less well off, Lent is a time of us to discover the meaning of what it means to be a son or daughter of a loving God.

So, how should we approach Lent? The more you put in, the more you get back would seem to be the logic of the season. In a time when we are enjoying great economic prosperity and affluence, the sobriety of Lent reminds us the important things of life. Community celebration and personal preparation are the two pillars on which the Christian spirituality is based. We journey as individuals, but as part of God’s family. The Italian phrase ‘il popolo in cammino’ (a people on a journey) sums up exactly the nature of the Church. When we remember that we are not alone, that we are part of a shared experience of life and faith, the struggles we face can become a little easier. As we begin the journey of Lent, we should reflect on the fact that we are part of God’s plan for the world. We often bemoan the state of the world we live in, and more often than we seem unable to offer nothing in response. It is hard to imagine changing the world. Michael Jackson’s song ‘Man in the mirror’ says “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change!” By fasting a little, praying a little more and by giving to those who could do with our help, by remembering we are all God’s wonderful children we make the change. That is the meaning on Lent.


Parish brochure for Lent

Ash Wednesday pics